What These 5 Drug Shortages Say About Pandemic Life
The sobering lessons behind spikes in steroids, insomnia drugs, and more
In early March, Eli Sklarsky, a private school admissions professional in New York City, started building a pharmaceutical stockpile. Sklarsky has an autoimmune disorder that requires him to take eight different medications a day, and as the Covid-19 pandemic spread, he was preparing to enter a lockdown-style quarantine.
“I requested a three-month supply of almost everything,” Sklarsky says. He was trying to be proactive: He didn’t want to have to make another trip to the pharmacy, and he wasn’t sure what the impending shutdown would mean for drug manufacturing and the pharmaceutical supply chain.
Sklarsky’s concerns were well-founded. At the end of 2019, there were already 270 drugs on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) shortage list. As pandemic closures affected manufacturing and the demand for specific drugs rose, the FDA reported nearly 50 new shortages, bringing the total number of medications in short supply to more than 300. The list spanned the diagnostic spectrum, from sedatives and paralytics commonly used for intubated patients to anti-inflammatories that treat conditions as routine as hemorrhoids. The shortage list is part of a broader picture that pharmacy data — including which prescriptions are rising and falling — paints about America’s health.
One of the first prescription spikes, which pharmacy benefits company Express Scripts documented in its America’s State of Mind Report as early as mid-February, was in anti-insomnia meds. Between February 16 and March 15, Express Scripts reported that prescriptions for sleep disorders rose nearly 15% over the same period in 2019.
“I don’t usually prescribe [the sleep aids] Ambien or Lunesta, but in recent months I’m doing a lot of that,” says Carlene MacMillan, MD, the psychiatrist founder of Brooklyn Minds, a mental health treatment center in New York. “Derangement in sleep cycles is so much higher.”
A review paper published in April in the Journal of Sleep Research enumerated the pandemic-related factors that could have a negative effect on sleep quality. In addition…